Trump blames ‘rogue killers’ over Khashoggi

President Trump (left) and King Salman

President Trump (left) and King Salman

US President Donald Trump has suggested “rogue killers” could be behind the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey.

Speaking to reporters after a phone call with King Salman, he said the Saudi leader had firmly denied knowing what had happened to Mr Khashoggi.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is flying to Saudi Arabia immediately.

Saudi and Turkish investigators are due to search the Saudi consulate where Mr Khashoggi was last seen.

Turkish officials believe Mr Khashoggi was murdered in the consulate by Saudi agents nearly two weeks ago but Riyadh has always strongly denied this.

The issue has strained Saudi Arabia’s ties with its closest Western allies.

Mr Trump addressed snatched questions from reporters over helicopter engine noise at the White House, describing King Salman’s denial as “very, very strong”.

“It sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers,” he added. “Who knows?”

The president provided no evidence to back his comment.

A Turkish security source has told the BBC that officials have audio and video evidence proving Mr Khashoggi was murdered inside the building.

 

On Saturday, Mr Trump threatened Saudi Arabia with “severe punishment” if it emerged that Mr Khashoggi had been killed inside the consulate but ruled out halting big military contracts with Riyadh.

Diplomatic pressure is growing on the Saudis to give a fuller explanation.

On Monday, King Salman ordered an investigation into the case.

“The king has ordered the public prosecutor to open an internal investigation into the Khashoggi matter based on the information from the joint team in Istanbul,” an official quoted by Reuters news agency said.

 

The official said the prosecutor had been instructed to work quickly.

Last week, Turkey accepted a Saudi proposal to form a joint working group to investigate Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance.

 

On Sunday, Riyadh angrily rejected political and economic “threats” over the case of the missing journalist and said it would respond to any punitive action “with a bigger one”.

Investigators will search the building in Istanbul later on Monday, the Turkish foreign ministry says.

Turkish diplomatic sources said the consulate would be searched by a joint Turkish-Saudi team in the late afternoon or evening. -BBC

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